MotoGP 2011 Le Mans Results
Stoner cruises to big win, trailed by drama and controversy
In a MotoGP season that stretches from March to November, today’s 2011 French Grand Prix was not just another race. The Repsol Honda team experienced a reversal of fortune, as Casey Stoner and Andrea Dovizioso ended up on the podium, while Dani Pedrosa ended up in the hospital. Reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo collided with an unhappy fact – there are a number of championship tracks on which his Yamaha cannot keep up with the factory Hondas, including Marco Simoncelli. And Simoncelli, penalized by Race Direction for his move that ended Pedrosa’s championship aspirations for this year, proved that he absolutely doesn’t get it, that ambition on his scale is a hazard to riders anywhere near him.
Early in the race, the Hondas announced their intentions, as Pedrosa and Stoner became their own little first group, while Simoncelli, Dovizioso and Lorenzo quickly formed a second group. Pedrosa attempted to keep Stoner within reach, but the Australian, who had been fast and smooth all weekend, was not having it. At some point in the middle of the race, it became clear that the competition would be for second place, with Pedrosa and Simoncelli the first pair up.
You’ll want to see the video for yourself, but to me, the accident on Lap 17 clearly appeared to have been caused by Simoncelli, who braked late and took a line into the turn that cut off Pedrosa and left the Spaniard nowhere to go, after Pedrosa had located his line and owned the lead heading INTO the curve. After the race, Pedrosa observed that Simoncelli’s penalty was a ride-through that cost him perhaps three spots in the race standings, while Pedrosa’s penalty, the collateral damage if you will, is another ten months of surgery, rehab and unrest.
Simoncelli, who apparently has never heard that it is better to be silent and have people think you’re stupid than to open your mouth and prove it, said after the race: “For me I haven’t done anything incorrect, so for me this is a race ‘action’ (incident) … For me the punishment from Race Direction was because of all the controversy of the last few days, and from Estoril. For me if the same thing happened without me they would penalize nobody. This is my point of view.” For this guy – whose approach to this sport has drawn sharp criticism from a surprising number of riders– to claim no problem exists is a problem in itself. We had thought it might take a serious injury to turn on the lights for Simoncelli.
Apparently it will take more than that. THERE’S a chilling thought.
On the lighter side of this, if there is one, I enjoyed reading the comments from Pedrosa’s boy Alberto Puig, who was physically incapable of offering his opinion without describing young Marco as both “dangerous” and “ignorant.” Simoncelli needs to be somewhat circumspect moving ahead in his career, as this sport is a very small fraternity comprised of very rich men who don’t like seeing their employees and property go flying through the air due to the perceived negligence of a careless and unrepentant competitor. A few more incidents like this and Simoncelli could find himself riding a bicycle with a circus dog act in Lower Slobbovia.
Elsewhere on the Grid
Despite the crowd of over 88,000 and a flyover by the entire eight-plane French Air Force, it was a bad day for the home boys at Le Mans. Pramac’s Randy de Puniet started things off by going lowside on Lap Two, before his asymmetric Bridgestone rear tire was even warm. Cal Crutchlow, the FNG for the French satellite Yamaha team, lost the front on Lap 7 and was done for the day. And Crutchlow’s teammate Colin Edwards, despite having had a fast weekend and qualifying seventh, crashed out around Lap 14 and battled mechanical issues for the rest of the day, finishing two laps down and picking up three valuable championship points. Jeesh.
Other than Stoner, whose 25 points today put him back in the conversation, the ride of the day was turned in by Rossi, who made his first ever appearance on a podium for Ducati, sending all of Italy into paroxysms of joy, after qualifying ninth. That he could do nothing about Dovizioso again today, after getting punked by the Repsol guy in Estoril, must be a concern for Rossi, but one he’ll worry about the next round … Lorenzo started fifth and finished fourth, some 21 seconds off the lead, and just wasn’t at all relevant today. (Might have had something to do with his warm-up practice today, which featured an epic highside that caused his engine to basically explode.) Tracks like this that feature a lot of 1st gear turns are going to be a problem for Lorenzo, although not as much of a problem as yesterday, before Pedrosa’s most recent injury … Ben Spies spent most of the day in the middle of the pack, but would have climbed back to fifth had he not been de-pantsed by Simoncelli, roaring back from his ride-through, on the final lap.
The Big Picture
Lorenzo now holds a 12-point lead over the resurgent Stoner with three weeks until Round Five in Barcelona. Pedrosa trails Stoner by five points, but will be stuck on 61 for some time, a virtual carbon copy of his late-season tribulations in 2010. Dovizioso and Rossi occupy fourth and fifth spots, respectively, with both riders showing improvement, and neither a real threat to Stoner or Lorenzo. Rounding out the top ten are steady Nicky Hayden and Hiro Aoyama, with Simoncelli, Edwards and Hector Barbera clustered within a point of one another.
MotoGP is not Hockey
An incident in today’s warm up practice between my boy Randy de Puniet and Casey Stoner deserves mention. Apparently de Puniet, a notorious plodder this season, impeded Stoner while the Australian was busy exiting quickly out of a corner. (Has anyone mentioned that the Hondas are mighty quick exiting turns these days?) This faux pas apparently excited the excitable Stoner more than usual, for it prompted him to “take a swing” at de Puniet – while they were both still on their bikes!
“Take a swing” is in quotes due to the fact that Stoner hits like my sister. Actually, the punch looked more like what my three year old grandson throws at me now and again. My advice for Casey – if the whole MotoGP thing doesn’t work out, don’t even THINK about trying the NHL.
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